When we catch a bird at the banding station, we look it over—and the bird eyeballs us right back.
They watch us as we extract them from the net, as we prepare their leg band, as we measure their wing. Sometimes they try to bite us, but mostly they just watch.
Most birds have deep brown eyes that look black from a distance.
In some birds, the eye color changes over time. Juvenile Northern Mockingbirds have grey-olive eyes:
Older Northern Mockingbirds have yellow-orange eyes—usually. In 1973 Erma J. Fisk noted that she had seen, at her banding station, adults with the following eye colors: “yellow-green, orange-green, orange-brown, dirty yellow, dirty orange, clear yellow, clear orange.”
Juvenile Spotted Towhees begin with greyish-brown irises in the fall, and their eyes slowly change so that by May, they have the bright red irises of adults.
Bushtits also all start with brown eyes, but the males keep those dark peepers for their entire lives. The females’ irises fade to a striking pale yellow.
The appearance of a bird’s eye depends not just on the eye, but also on the feathers around the eye. Tiny tuft-like feathers form a ring around the eye:
Some birds accentuate the eye by having those feathers be a different color—an eye-ring—or with other striking facial markings.
Others seem to want to hide their eyes.
And others… wait, hang on. That’s not a bird.
Okay, garter snake from the banding station. You have pretty eyes too.